Europe’s toughest endurance rally, LeJog 2022 has finished after five legs and 1300 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats (Dec 3-6). Competitors tackled 33 regularities and 17 tests, but significantly, the large European contingent from 13 different countries and one American, really enjoyed their dose of endurance over some of the toughest but most remote roads in the UK. Their clamour for LeJog’s unique endurance recipe helps maintain its reputation as one of the most demanding yet adrenalin packed historic reliability trials in Europe.
Deputy Clerk of the Course for Le Jog, Nick Reeves, changed the route for 2022 to run up the west coast past the gateways to the Scottish islands, then across the top of the remote rugged coastline roads to John O’Groats. The adventurous route included a night test at Oban Airport after the runway closed for the day, its staff ushering the cars into position using their glow battons normally reserved for guiding aircraft. The European teams, in particular, loved the rugged nature of the testing tracks. Nick Reeves was happy with the immediate feedback.
Traditional historic venues such as ‘Rest and be Thankful’ were still in the popular mix, but during the final two legs the pressure mounted as crews ran for 26 hours with just a two hour break. There were two long regularities over narrow fast undulating tracks to keep teams on their toes in the Strath More Hills and past Loch Naver. The final regularity came after a welcome dawn breakfast, and it proved to be a real ‘sting in the tail,’ the final punch which had some navigators swearing, others in awe. Whilst the international teams loved the adventure of LeJog, some were less enamoured by the traditional Scottish breakfast which included haggis and black pudding served at dawn in their two hour halt.
12 medals were awarded, six golds, four silvers and two bronze after a great battle by different crews and their cars to achieve the traditional LeJog valued medal status.
Two HERO-ERA championships were resolved at the same time during this, the last HERO-ERA event of the 2022 season. Stephen Owens finally won the HERO Cup for drivers, a championship he has been runner up in on five previous occasions! Pete Johnson also won the prestigious Golden Roamer Award for the highest placed navigator in 2022 after a tussle with another top navigator Henry Carr.
Stephen Owens; “Eventually it’s come good. I owe a lot to HERO-ERA for looking after me down the highways and byways of the UK, it’s been really, really competitive. Nick Bloxham my navigator has been brilliant to help get me through. It has been a tough 2022, and to cap it all, LeJog has been very tiring – it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. There are some great competitors and we have enjoyed some really good relationships this season.”
2022 LeJog gold medal winning navigator Ryan Pickering summed up the event just before he went into action for the final two legs with his gold medal winning driver Kevin Haselden; Ryan “It’s a very tough challenge and we’re just getting into the endurance leg now. There’s probably another 20 odd hours to go and this is where it’s make or break for everybody. This is where your mistakes will happen. It’s where the pressure will really build and build all the way to John O’ Groats, hopefully.”
Kevin; “It’s just one of those great events, which are so good to do. We had a few problems with the track rod end but everybody helped us and sorted that out. We ran out of brakes at the end but it was absolutely fantastic.
Ryan; “The last regularity was unbelievable, it summed up the whole event for me. It was tough and challenging for both sides of the car, but really fantastic! Now I have my first gold medal, so I’ve got a bronze a gold now, but Kevin has five golds!”
Despite all the popping and banging from their Volvo, Pete Johnson and his driver Noel Kelly had a great run to silver medals, but in addition Pete won the Golden Roamer Award for navigators after a great and close battle with Henry Carr.
Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage put on a great spurt in the final 12hours to move from silver to gold status in their 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. Jayne is a former HERO Cup Champion and now multi gold medal winner; she was quick to go over to Stephen Owens as he crossed the line in his Porsche 911 at John O’ Groats and congratulate a fellow HERO-Cup winner.
John and Rob Kiff were celebrating more gold LeJog medals to add to their collections as they enjoyed another great event in their 1958 VW Beetle which has seen more action on this event, and many others, than any other historic rally car. John has competed in 13 LeJogs and organised five of them! John; “Yeah, bonkers. It’s a disease, I should warn people it is a disease! The Amazing entry from Europe was fantastic too, we were delighted to see so many foreign groups as they can’t do this sort of thing in their own countries.”
For Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane in 2022 there was huge relief and a sense of atonement after their heartbreak on last year’s LeJog when they dropped out of gold status as they missed a control just before the end of the event. This year they made amends with a great performance to take the much coveted gold! Although as Angus said;” It was touch and go, even at the finish line in John O’Groats we weren’t sure, but afterwards when it sank in there was huge relief, and of course joy!” The BMW 323i was outperformed by its lighter and faster German crewed rival, but Angus and Mike played the long game with aplomb.
LeJog is not just for the experienced rally crews, although the experience helps in a major way. At the opposite end of the scale, there are crews whose aim is just to finish the major endurance event. Germans Thomas Boemmer and Nils Marose both competed in a HERO Challenge rally before throwing themselves into the deep end.
Thomas; “It was wonderful and very special, however, if I do come back I have to get the permission of my wife. I have to say thank you to LeJog and to Nils, we have done the job, we just wanted just to finish.”
Nils. “It was really tough, we got to the blue ribbon status early on but then it got too tough, but still had a lot of fun. Some of the incredible tests and maybe the wonderful streets and routes will mean we will be back again.”
If John Kiff is Mr LeJog, then German Horst Pokroppa is Mr Super LeJog man in his MGA which is almost a fixture at the venue. Horst; “Yes in all this time of coming to LeJog, I have done it 13 times and the MG nearly as many, but in all that time I have never won a medal –never mind a silver, now 13 is clearly a lucky number and I am so excited. I will be back again in 2023, I will book my place now!”
Simon Mellings and Karl Ellis are another team celebrating a medal, this time an amazing gold in their 1986 Rover 216 VP.
Simon; “It’s a mixture of everything, isn’t it? We did really well on the TC night section, which is where we were quickest of all the cars, which made a difference and helped our confidence. “
Navigator Karl Ellis was very nervous before the final two long regularities, it was the big one, and he was feeling it, but Karl held it all together and the duo left for the prize giving determined to celebrate.
Bill Cleyndert and Emily Anderson were just sensational in their 1925 Bentley with has no hood, so they were exposed to the elements the whole way. When the heavy rain hit it didn’t help that Emily’s wet suit had fallen off the back of the Bentley in a test so she had to endure the cold and wet for 12 hours in some ski gear.
Having also been praised by Bill for her astute and detailed navigation while being thrown around, when it rained heavily in the open cockpit of the vintage car it became event more difficult to navigate as Bill said; “I just don’t know how she did it, but she was fantastic!” Bill and particularly Emily, kept on delivering despite the discomfort. The deserved result, gold medals, Bill’s first and Emily’s second.
However, Emily was not impressed with the very last regularity of the event which she felt had too many tricks in it, designed to confuse the navigator. Emily;” Can I swear please?
Agathe Bubbe and Luc Maruenda from France brought their 1953 Austin Healey 3000 over for their very first LeJog together. The small hood which let water gush in, and the fact that their battery kept losing it’s charge, meant the French pairing had an adventurous time.
Luc; “It was total madness, very long and tiring but that’s the best feeling right here. The media team even jump started us once!”
The crew were seen a few times in fuel stations or at the side of the road and suddenly they were off again, this time flying past again with the Healey working again, as if by magic.
Agathe; “Okay it doesn’t have much of a hood, I mean it can be freezing, it’s like driving an umbrella, you know the thing is we are both still smiling as we really have enjoyed it.”
HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock gave his view on the 2022 LeJog. Guy; ”The numbers of Swiss, Germans, Dutch and Belgians was impressive, but it is important for us to always attract different nationalities.
“I think we almost got more foreign than British crews in the end, which is smaller than the norm, but yeah, there’s been a lot of newcomers, some first timers who have never ever done a rally before and they start with a LeJog one of the hardest of all!
“But they’ve been here smiling and they’ve loved it and learned as they’ve gone on. It is a reliability trial. Not all the cars made it, we lost five cars, most through mechanicals, a couple in Cornwall, on the way up and a couple last night. On average, I think the percentage is about the same and finishes with the slightly different route, which I think worked out. David Richards, the Chairman of Motorsport UK, invited us to visit his hotel in St. Mawes in Cornwall on Saturday which changed the route a little bit, but we did a quite a lot more in the southwest. A little bit less in Wales, but we’ll be back to normal next year.
“To summarize 2022 for us, HERO-ERA have been busy with lots of hard work from an absolutely great team. I think it’s 14 events and a number of Tours this year. The team have worked immensely hard, from my team in the competition side, hospitality, media and everybody else was in the office included.
“And in 2023 we have 16 events! We will have a couple of weeks off over Christmas for everybody to recharge, then we start off with the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo, Three Legs of Man and then whatever comes next. There is so much going on, just check the website!